‘Free speech’ versus ‘hate speech’ (or intolerance of the intolerant)

The ‘free speech’ debate continues.

‘Free speech’ is not entirely free, and it is far from equal, some people have far more opportunity and power than others to be heard. How free speech should be is a contentious issue.

‘Hate speech’ is harder to define, but someone at Reddit attempted:

“Hate speech” has simply become “Things we hate hearing you say.”

What a weak, feckless, emotionally hysterical culture we’re encouraging.

A quote from Golriz Gaharaman:

“Freedom of speech, like most rights, is not absolute. It’s subject to the rights of others, to safety, freedom, equality. Our gov must balance the right of right wing hate mongers against the greater interests of public safety in NZ. Just as Aus has done in denying their visas.”

I got involved in a discussion on all this on Twitter yesterday (I usually avoid it, it’s difficult to debate well when dabbling while multi tasking). It started with this:

Marianne Elliot: I’m taking notes on who stepped up to support Renae vs who is supporting this lot.

John Hart: The Venn diagram will be two non-intersecting circles I suspect.

PG: I have spoken up for Renae and against Jones’ legal action, and also support free speech at Auckland council venues. You don’t? (I didn’t support Renae’s petition, nor do I support what Southern & Molyneux say).

Sarah Jane Parton: Did you donate to both Renae’s legal fund and Brash et al’s $50k? Are you the ∩?

PG: I’m not cool with him at all. But like many people I have serious concerns about the growing tendency to try to shut down speech people don’t agree with. Have you read this?

Sarah Jane Parton: WRT to the “legality”, I point you to section 61 of the Human Rights Act,

Sarah Jane Parton: And then there’s the costs of security, policing, damages, etc etc.

PG: Should street protests be banned? There are costs of security, policing and risks of damage with them.
Or a protests a valid form of free speech important to a democracy?

Marianne Elliot: The critical line in that piece is this: “It’s perhaps all too easy to proclaim the general need for tolerance and acceptance of “offence” by others when you’re in a privileged and protected social position.”

PG: As important: “But, if we are going to mark out some social groups as requiring greater protection from the effects of speech, how do we do so, and who gets to decide just who they are? And how do we stop… expanding to capture expression we might think ought to be allowed?”

Marianne Elliot: Those are not simple questions, but with a clear power and risk analysis, nor are they impossible to resolve. The point is that we need someone other than the people who have always been in charge to be leading that conversation.

PG: It’s a growing issue that should be talked about be people other than those in power like . But one of our big challenges is how we do that without being it being trashed by abuse and by polarisation.

Marianne Elliot: Or maybe the biggest challenge is that the people at least risk from hate speech are used to being in charge of our laws and in control of debates about them.

PG: Some of the biggest targets of ‘hate speech’ and abuse and threats and defamation are those most prominent in power.

Marianne Elliot: Defamation is an important legal issue & is also very different hate speech. Calling one powerful white man racist has a very different power & social impact to someone saying “blacks are collectively less intelligent”, or invoking a “quick, decisive, and brutal” white backlash.

PG: It’s different again including many non-powerful white men in general condemnation. I think there needs to be a significant shift, but care has to be taken not to take rights of some when giving them to others.

Marianne Elliot:  Maybe instead it’s time to sit back and listen to the people being harmed by this speech? To listen to their very real and reasonable fears, and resist telling them that they don’t understand what is really at stake?

PG: We should always take time to sit back and listen, but that shouldn’t silence us either. I don’t know who tells others they don’t understand. Attempts to understand should work in all directions. As Andrew said, it’s very complex.

Sarah Jane Parton: I’d like to hear ’ take on this piece.

Eddie Clark: Some differences at the edges maybe, but pretty much agree with Andrew. Anyone who tells you this is simple probably doesn’t understand it well enough.

Marianne Elliot:  It’s not simple. I haven’t heard many say that it is. What many (including me) are saying is that it is time for the people at least risk of harm from harmful speech to listen to people at most risk, and to resist telling them that they don’t understand what’s at stake.

Marianne Elliot:  There are difficult balances to be reached. But for that balance to be fair, what has to change is the make-up of the people who get to dominate the process of reaching that balance.

PG: “what has to change is the make-up of the people who get to dominate the process of reaching that balance” – by suppressing the speech of whom? You can’t easily shut up those you don’t want to hear, nor make those speak who you want to hear.

Marianne Elliot:  Oh lord. I’m not sure there’s much point continuing this conversation if you think that changing the balance of who holds power in setting and interpreting law is about suppressing speech. Over and out.

PG: Oh lord, you’ve jumped to a bit of a conclusion there. I don’t think that.

Sarah Jane Parton: If you are not the people who will be harmed by this stuff then maybe it IS time to be quiet. Goff’s call has not been met with criticism from former refugees, transfolk, or Muslims, which is noteworthy. The ethnic and gender make up of Brash’s “coalition” is also telling.

PG: Are you suggesting that only former refugees, transfolk, Muslims and you should say anything about this? If that’s the case the issue would never have been raised or discussed to any noticeable degree.

Sarah Jane Parton: I’m saying that if you use your privilege to support and amplify the voices of other privileged people whose very aim is to trample on marginalised people, maybe it’s time to be quiet.

That’s more or less how it ran – Twitter threads can get a bit convoluted.

It evolved from debating whether free speech principles overrode claims of hate speech or not, to suggesting that people ‘in privileged positions’ should be quiet and let others speak about the problems with hate speech.

I’m sure no minds were changed in the conversations, but this illustrates some of the issues around complexities of free speech versus hate speech’

It is more an issue of how much intolerance of intolerant speech should limit the freedom to speak.

Free speech and hatemongers

There have been attempts to attack and diminish free speech here by hatemongers in the past, and some individuals try at times to shout/shut down speech the don’t like or disagree with, but that’s not what this is about, it’s about free speech generally (but comes back to being relevant to here).

The Listener: How to deal with New Zealand’s racist hatemongers

It’s tempting to be relaxed about the issue of hate speech in this country, when the sort of racist extremists who are a scourge internationally can muster only a half-dozen miserable specimens for a protest at Parliament.

Our so-called National Front may be risible. But the same weekend its feeble protest was drowned out by anti-racism demonstrators…

This raised questions about whether drowning out and driving away people who had a legal right to conduct a protest is a reasonable response. Free speech should provide a capability to speak in opposition, not to shut others up.

…Iranian Embassy first secretary Hormoz Ghahremani was reported as giving an inflammatory anti-Israel address at a mosque meeting at which others called for the annihilation of Israel and denied the Holocaust.

It is hard to be relaxed about this. The meeting in Auckland was intended to remain private; an unsanctioned YouTube posting was subsequently deplored by the speakers. But it’s not the first time hate speech has been outed in our Muslim community, and the tenor of these comments is always a gut-punch to the New Zealand ethos. We are not immune to the many varieties of racist extremism that cause so much tragedy abroad.

Like moon-landing deniers, anti-Semites ballast their hate speech with allegations that, although they cannot withstand factual scrutiny, are nevertheless readily believed by a rump of society.

You can’t force people to believe in things or not believe in things.

It’s tempting to ban or deport such hatemongers, but that would only strengthen their followers’ conviction that they’re martyred messiahs. More importantly, the suppression of views, however noxious, compromises democratic freedom. Freedom of speech should have as few exceptions as possible. Unless someone actively incites violence or acts of hatred, society is better off hearing their views than not. Inflammatory speech can radicalise people, but at least if we all know about it, we can counter it.

The mosque speakers must now be left in no doubt that an overwhelming majority of New Zealanders deplore their views and would oppose any enactment of them.

I hope an overwhelming majority of New Zealanders deplore their views, and the views of the National Front, but there is a danger in assuming that an overwhelming majority agrees with your own views like this.

Chillingly, Trump now attacks the principle of free speech for others when he demands African-American NFL players be fired for exercising their right to protest during the national anthem.

Trump didn’t just attack their right to speak and protest, he tried to inflict financial damage on sports franchises that didn’t ban protests as he demanded. Deplorable from a president.

Increasingly, overseas universities are the testing grounds for the boundaries between free speech and hate speech. Controversial speakers are typically vetoed by student or faculty activists, or rendered silent by bellicose protest and logistical disruption.

Apart from minor examples we fortunately don’t seem to have much of a problem with this sort of thing here in New Zealand – yet.

It’s perhaps grounding to return to the summation of Voltaire’s philosophy by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Let’s vigorously, loudly and unfailingly deplore hate-speakers – but let’s also accept that banning or over-shouting them will not silence them, let alone change their views. Only free speech, goodwill and truth can do that.

People we disagree with, and whose speech we may deplore, shouldn’t be silenced – any tend not to have their minds changed much either.

But free speech – not unfettered free speech, but free speech that doesn’t compromise free speech, is an important principle to abide by.

This is why one of the primary reasons for moderation here, to protect free speech from those who try to shut up and drive people away by attacking them personally.

I also like to discourage attacking many for the speech or actions of a few (and sometimes just one).

Free speech works two ways – if you want it you also have to allow it for others, even if you don’t like what they say. Personal attacks can be attacks on free speech – and they leave what is disagreed on unresolved.

The most effective response is to debate what you disagree with, armed with facts and reasonableness.

By all means hate what they may say, and argue strongly against it, but don’t hate people you don’t know.

Hide’s “Right Not To Be Offended” column a coincidence?

Rodney Hide was (presumably) deliberately controversial and provocative in speeches at the Act Party conference, with his “and hate the poor, and hate the Maori, and hate the unions – well, that’s true” comment and calling TV3 bastards.

I wonder how coincidental his Sunday Herald column was:

Many now enjoy the Right Not To Be Offended. The right wasn’t granted by Parliament, but it’s nonetheless firmly embedded in our body politic.

There’s no taxpayer-funded commission to police the right. Instead, an army of self-appointed commissioners pore over public comment, eager to take offence on our behalf. Their only reward is the self-righteousness that follows from appearing socially aware and being a tender soul readily offended on behalf of others.

The self-appointed commissioners prove their sensitivity and caring by bellowing the “offensive” comments loudly and heaping abuse on the offenders.

I wonder if this was an excuse prepared in advance. But it’s unlikely to undo any damage caused to Act by his comments.

His ‘hate’ comments will be reported and commented on far more than his column.

And as demonstrated by ACT speaks its branes at The Standard Hide has reinforced widely held perceptions of Act.

@ActParty has said “Those are not ACT’s views.” But most will closely link Hide with the Act Party and will care little for official party denials.

Hide should know that people have a right to be offended if that’s how they feel, and they have a right not to vote for parties that offend them.

He should know that his comments could adveresly affect support for the Act Party and it could adversely affect the party’s survival at the next election.

Was it an act of hoping to pick up some “red neck” support and not caring about what the wider voting public thought?

I’ve seen suggestions that it was an act of revenge by Hide, hitting back at the party that dumped him as leader. I don’t but that – there must be a reasonable relationship between the party and Hide for him to be invited to speak at the conference.

The impression I got from the delivery and repeated looks to a particular part of the audience was that Hide spoke deliberately and in collusion with others.

It seems like a deliberate targeting, both of popular targets for the right and targeting a voting demographic.

Very risky, and it leaves Act with a perception of still being the domain of fringe nutters. I don’t know if there’s enough of them to vote them back into a creible Parliamentary presence.